A counselor’s note: Caregivers and grief during COVID-19

Posted on: Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

Across the world, people are feeling impacted by COVID-19. While it is important to know and discuss the physical symptoms of this virus, an equally important conversation is on the emotional impact. Specifically, how grief is present during this time and its unique impact on those caring for a loved one with dementia.

While grief may not seem like an obvious effect of this pandemic, it is understandable. Thousands around the world have lost their lives and the lives of loved ones to COVID-19. Those of us who have not directly experienced the loss of a loved one to the virus may be experiencing other valid forms of loss in our own lives. Most of us have lost a great deal of normalcy, freedom and independence, causing many to feel a sense of loss. Without even realizing it, many people during this time may be grieving in some way.

The impact on caregivers

Caregivers may be experiencing these feelings even stronger. On top of the grief you were potentially undergoing after receiving a diagnosis, you are now faced with the challenges of loss during this pandemic. Perhaps there is a sense of losing time with your loved one while isolated or pain over lost plans you had hoped to accomplish, but now cannot. For those individuals with a loved one in a nursing facility, the physical separation can also be creating a sense of loss.

Although it may be difficult to allow these feelings to come to mind, it is very important to acknowledge these emotions and be validated that they are both normal and understandable. Rather than shying away from this pain, grief is best handled once you put a name to it and begin to understand it. For some, it may be relieving to know that this is normal and others are also experiencing this.

During these uncertain times, there may be fears of the unknown future. However, with time, we can foster hope, and with some nurturing, these feelings will pass. In the future, some things will return to normal while others may not. Yet we will adapt as those situations arise especially if we take the time to process and acknowledge our feelings of grief now.

As we navigate this time together, below are recommendations to assist caregivers in processing grief in a healthy way. These tips can be helpful when dealing with the sense of loss regarding the impacts of COVID-19 or when dealing with the natural grief that comes for caring for someone with a progressive disease.

Recommendations to help caregivers healthily process grief

  • Allow yourself the time to feel emotions, including the bad ones.
    Rather than trying to push away your thoughts or feeling guilty for having them, embrace each as they come and then let them go. Ignoring these feelings may lead to greater and longer lasting challenges later.
  • Don’t fight grief, you won’t be overcome by it.
    Often individuals feel that if they let any emotion out, they will “lose it.” Yes, we may feel strong emotions and they may be uncomfortable for a moment, but just as with all things, it will pass.
  • Find a method of expressing your grief.
    Grief is helped along if we find a safe space to express it, whether that be out loud or to ourselves. Having a dedicated space to acknowledge grief can make it easier to handle. Talking with a trusted friend, prayer or journaling are some ideas to get started.
  • Guilt is an enemy that is unjustified.
    It is justified and normal to wish things weren’t this way or even that you are not in this situation. That in no way makes you a bad caregiver.
  • While there are common stages of grief, they do not always go in order and they are not always “passed.”
    The traditional stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. However, it is important to note that this do not always happen in order and just because you have moved through a stage doesn’t mean you can’t have some of those feelings again.
  • Find comfort in the things you can control.
    While we cannot control the situation or things we have lost; we can control how we respond to those adversities. We can control every action we take through the course of a day.
  • There is no timeframe on grief.
    Grief does not have a time frame and does not have to be resolved by a certain point. For caregivers, there can be new losses to process. Be kind to yourself in knowing that there is no timeline or limits that need to be followed.
  • Focus on your needs.
    Taking time for yourself and take time to assess what it is that you are needing to do, think or feel, then allow yourself to do those things. Its ok to take time or space away, even if that means going outside alone or to the other room.
  • Seek support.
    If you find that you are not able to handle grief and it has become too much for you that is okay, you are not alone. Seek support from health care professionals. Visit the Biggs Institute’s COVID-19 resource webpage or the Caring for the Caregiver webpage for information to help you navigate during this time. We are also available for phone counseling services to discuss your concerns. To make a counseling appointment, call 210-450-9960.

Remember that this is a new situation that none of us have experienced before. Be kind to yourself and know that you are doing the best you can.

Together, we will navigate and move through this challenging time.

Melissa Flores, LPC

Counselor and Community Programs Coordinator
Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases
UT Health San Antonio

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